To keep advising our audience on food preservation techniques, both novel and historical, I thought today we could talk a bit about preserving food in wood ash.
My research suggests many food items can be successfully preserved in wood ash, including eggs, produce, and even meat.
One resource stated that the Cherokee people often stored meat in hickory ash, which served to flavor the meat and preserve it.
Farmers in Africa, meanwhile, have been preserving tomatoes in wood ash for generations.
(I’ll admit, I watched one reveal video in which a tomato preservation experiment did not work as advertised. You might want to take note of that and try another food instead if you want to try this for yourself.)
Preserving Food in Wood Ash
I’ve read that preserving food in wood ash extends the viability of the food anywhere from three months to an undetermined number of years.
Ultimately, it’s the coolness and darkness of the storage location—along with protecting the food from the air’s natural impact on organic biological processes.
Related: 8 Food Storage Myths
While most research specifically mentions using earthenware crockery for this type of preservation, I read one article that told the tale of one man who used a mere cardboard box without any negative consequence.
Another dug a hole in the ground, placed his foods in the hole, ensuring they did not touch, and then filled in the hole and the spaces around the foods with ash. (I’ll stick with the majority for my experiment, though.)
So, why should we consider storing food in wood ash when plenty of other options for preservation are available?
There are several reasons: wood ash is typically easy to come by and it is a great deterrent to pests, from mammals to insects. Moreover, wood ash (especially when the larger bits are sifted out) is very lightweight.
Ah, science. It dazzles my mind and ignites my imagination.
Today I’m going to try preserving cheese in wood ash. This will be Part One of two parts.
This part will go over the incredibly easy process of keeping cheese in wood ash, and then in three months or so, I’ll plan to do a reveal video in which we remove the cheese from the ash and give it a taste!
(I’ve also read that the ash is easy to remove from cheese and that any ash you accidentally consume will not hurt you. I’ve also read overall very positive comments about the taste of foods preserved this way. We will find out for ourselves in a few months.)
What You Will Need
• Several cups of wood ash – I got mine from my backyard fire pit. But it’s been quite rainy here the last several weeks. So it took me a while to collect an appropriate quantity of good quality DRY ash. You may notice some larger pieces in the container. I did not use them for this project. Instead, I scooped pure ash from around the bigger bits and then threw the remaining ash and bits back into my fire pit.
• A piece of cheese – Your cheese should be about an inch thick, and in researching for this project, gruyere was mentioned numerous times, as was cheddar. I went with gruyere because it was on sale at my grocery store, and I’m less familiar with it than I am cheddar.
Related: My First Batch Of Canned Cheese
• An earthenware crock – Since I’m trying this on a small scale to start, I decided to use this small crock that I love. It has a matching lid, but if yours doesn’t, you should be able to use a plate-like our mothers and grandmothers did back in the day when they used such crocks to make pickles. It wouldn’t hurt to place a stone or brick on top of the plate if you choose that route.
• You might also want to have a knife handy and a large spoon or trowel for moving the ash to the crock.
I wouldn’t consider this step a necessity, but I cut off a small piece of the cheese to taste.
I want to build a sensory memory of the flavor, consistency, and texture, so I have something to compare the preserved flavor to when the time comes.
Fill the crock with about one to two inches of ash. Tamp it down as much as possible.
Place your cheese on top of the tamped down ash.
Add more ash to fill in around the sides and over top of the cheese. You want to pack the ash completely around the cheese.
I’m also filling the crock to the very top and tamping the ash down again.
This is what mine looks like when it is filled.
Add your lid or plate to the filled crockery.
Store in a cool, dark place. I’ve stored mine on a top shelf in the darkest, coolest part of my basement.
That, my friends, is literally all there is to it. Check back in three months for the reveal.
A Few Notes
• If the idea of having chunky ash in your preservation crock bothers you, feel free to sift your ash.
• Waxing store-bought cheese is another potential method for preservation, and maybe we will give that a try soon, too.
• This type of preservation will work ONLY with hard cheeses. Do not attempt it with soft or even medium cheeses, all of which contain too much moisture.
• Wood ash is a common material with dozens of great uses for homesteaders, preppers, gardeners, and more. It can be used as a fertilizer, ice melter, disinfectant, and more.
• The ash you use should be from hardwoods. Mine, I believe, is maple or possibly oak. You definitely want to be 100% certain there are no burned pressure-treated lumber ashes, or any plastics, or anything else potentially hazardous included in your ash mix.
• I’m eager to taste the cheese in a bit; I’ve read the results experienced by other food scientists, and all of them report that the cheese tastes even better preserved, saltier, grainier, and more like a fine parmesan. So, yes, I’m looking forward to that!
• I also read that using a mason jar and cubed cheese should work also. It’s always good to have options.
• While the experiment I’m working on suggests a three-month shelf life, other resources say that hard cheeses (like cheddar, gouda, gruyere, parmesan, and romano) can remain viable and edible for a decade or longer.
All in all, if you’re curious about this type of food preservation, I say give it a try! It could not be easier, and it’s an inexpensive experiment to test.
If you’ve preserved food in wood ash in the past (or used ash for any of its myriad other benefits), we’d love to hear about it.
Leave us a comment and share your experience!
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